Every year we manage to make at least one visit to Pixton Meadow in the village, not least because it is such a delightful and popular spot. As we have noted before, meadows have seriously declined over the last 70 years so it is great to see even this example of what in the past would have been a pretty ordinary meadow.
There was a good crowd for the walk last Sunday, and though it was only a short amble we did find a good range of species, starting off with Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla), which Tom heard as soon as he got out of the car. Once in the meadow we had a gentle introduction to the meadow plants, which are typical for what the National Vegetation Classification calls MG5 grassland. For this grassland type Crested Dog’s-tail and Common Knapweed are the defining species, along with Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Ribwort Plantain, Cock’s-foot, Sweet Vernal-grass and several other plants. The vascular plant species from the meadow are detailed in the article about Pixton from 2015. It was nice to see some people collecting the grasses and keenly remembering their names.
While many of us were looking at plants, others were off finding insects. Alastair was targetting the bees, and over the course of an hour or so had shown us what he called “A bumper bundle of bumblebees!”: Garden Bumblebee (Bombus hortorum), White-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum), Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius), Common Carder-bee (Bombus pascuorum) and (relatively new to our shores) the Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum), which that means the only common one we have not yet recorded in the kilometre square is the Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum).
Tom was also insect hunting, locating numerous moths and butterflies. Straw Dot (Rivula sericealis) was everywhere, flying out of the grass as soon as it was disturbed, as were the tiny micromoths with a golden sheen, Glyphipterix fuscoviridella. However, the biggest, and most striking moth was Yellow Shell (Camptogramma bilineata), a very smart grassland species, which Tom captured as it settled on an oak.
Beetles were about too, such as the soldier beetles, Cantharis rustica and its smaller darker relative Cantharis nigra, as well as the very distinctive green Common Malachite Beetle (Malachius bipustulatus). Towards the end of the stroll Ffion found the equally striking Red-headed Cardinal Beetle (Pyrochroa serraticornis).
Sweeping a net through the grasses routinely picked up loads of bugs (Hemiptera) as well, the most abundant being Leptopterna dolabrata, though we also found Grypocoris stysi. The very cool green spider Diaea dorsata was also hiding on some of the plants and turned up in our nets.
Hoverflies were also out in force, though we didn’t identify too many of these pollinators. The ubiquitous Eristalis pertinax was an easy one, but a very striking animal turned out to be rather tricky to identify. With the help of the folk on the UK Hoverflies group it was labelled as a female Sphaerophoria, though unfortunately the females of that genus can’t be identified to species very easily, so we’ll have to make do with that.
Common Spotted-orchids were reasonably frequent, as ever, especially over on the damp edge of the meadow, which was also where we did a very quick bit of soil sampling (continuing on from our efforts the other week), collecting some oribatid mites, as well as this very colourful springtail, Lepidocyrtus cyaneus.
The meadow is usually cut around the beginning of July, so we still have the best part of a month to explore it. Several plants have still to emerge, and the insect fauna changes with every day. Our visit just touched on the amazing diversity of the place; as we looked in the nets we also found hundreds of tiny flies and beetles, which are rather hard to identify, but play their part in the complex web of life in this great spot that is only a mile from the centre of the village.